Thanks to its origins dating back to the House of Burgesses in 1619 at Jamestown, the Virginia House of Delegates today is the longest-serving, democratically-elected legislative body in the English-speaking New World.
Riding a wave of anti-Trump sentiment in 2019, Democrats flipped both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate from GOP to Democrat that year. That Democrat control of both houses of the legislature plus the three statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general explain the number of “Stop One-Party Rule” signs that dotted some roadways across the Commonwealth last fall.
Despite the tightening polls in the marquee race for governor last October, most Democrat analysts were hopeful they could still maintain control of the House, where they had held a 55-45 lead and had vastly outspent their Republican challengers. (The Virginia Senate will not face the voters until 2023. It currently has a 21-19 Democrat majority.) However, for a short while on election night on November 3, it appeared the House was aiming for a 50-50 split which would have necessitated a power-sharing arrangement.
Instead, later in the night the GOP appeared to eke out two more narrow wins where they edged out Democrat incumbents. Since the victory margins were paper-thin, the Democrat candidates requested recounts in those two races. The state pays for recounts where the margin is less than 0.5%.
On Friday, November 3, a panel of judges overseeing the recount upheld the GOP win by challenger Karen Greenhalgh. The recount was for House District 85, which covers part of Virginia Beach. On election night, Greenhalgh had appeared to defeat incumbent Democrat Alex Askew by a mere 127 votes. This is all the more remarkably close when one realizes the average House district encompasses about 80,000 residents. In that race, voters cast a total of 28,413 ballots. In the recount Askew did pick up an additional twelve votes, but still not enough to prevail.
Greenhalgh’s confirmed victory will give the GOP a guaranteed 51-49 control of the House. However, the second recount is to be finished this week. That race involves House District 91, which covers part of Hampton, Poquoson, and York County, in Tidewater. Currently, GOP challenger A.C. Cordoza leads Democrat incumbent Martha Mugler by a mere 94 votes out of 27,388 cast. Although the lead of 94 votes is thin, it is significant and difficult to overturn. Therefore, most observers expect Cordoza will maintain his win which in turn will give the GOP the anticipated 52-48 control of the State House starting in January 2022.
To those who make the common excuse, “my vote never counts,” these 2021 House of Delegates elections prove instructive. With Virginia’s population over eight million and one hundred House of Delegate districts spreading from the Atlantic shore to the Tennessee line, the control of the House falls to the GOP due to a wafer-thin margin of some 206 votes spread over two toss-up districts in Tidewater. To symbolize the tiny margins in this case, 206 adults can fit on about four busses.